SEATTLE — It’s kind of a bummer that Malcolm Badewitz-Brown’s neighbor is a zombie. Still, a dozen members of the Human Resistance, who gathered on his front lawn at 8:30 Friday morning, were pretty confident they could outrun him if he should rise from his slumber.
But zombies hiding elsewhere on the University of Washington campus — well, that was a different story.
Brandishing Nerf Blaster guns and clutching balled-up socks, the student members of the Human Resistance began the nervous journey toward campus — moving swiftly as a group through the tree-lined streets, glancing frequently over their shoulders, peering anxiously down alleys and over walls.
Getting to a 9:30 a.m. biology class in Kane Hall has never been quite so interesting.
Humans vs. Zombies Tag, or HvZT, is a complex game that sweeps through the UW campus every quarter. This fall, more than 900 students and two associate deans are playing; the game ends next Friday.
“The best part of it is you meet a ton of people,” said Badewitz-Brown, one of four overseers, or game organizers.
The object is for humans to avoid being tagged by zombies during the course of the game, usually played for a week. The game has a set of elaborate rules to keep it fair and safe, and to give both sides an even chance of winning.
Humans wear orange bandannas on their arms to signal that they’re players, although the best way to spot a human game-player is to look for anyone carrying a gigantic Nerf gun (zombies hit with a Nerf projectile or a rolled-up sock are taken out of the game for 15 minutes). Zombies wear orange bandannas on their heads, unless they’re super-zombies, who wear green bandannas.
Does the administration have a position on zombies infesting the campus?
“Real ones?” asked university spokesman Norm Arkans. “Yes, we’re opposed. Metaphorical ones? No.”
HvZT began at Goucher College in Maryland in 2005, and quickly spread through college campuses throughout the country. Zombie tag has even started to infect non-college students — the city of Norfolk, Va., held a game Friday night that was expected to attract thousands of people.
“We’re insatiable,” said super-zombie student Jennifer Schilling, as she hunted with a horde of fellow zombies Friday morning. As they scanned the crowd for orange armbands, the zombies formed into teams and then split up to give chase.
Even with 900 players, the Human Resistance still seemed small and scattered throughout campus; a few humans looked a little sheepish as they toted enormous, 2-foot-long plastic Nerf guns to class. Students who weren’t playing the game still seemed to know all about it, and sometimes called out encouragement to human players — or to zombies.
John Sahr, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs and, as of Friday afternoon, a zombie (“They figured out I was in the building, and had every exit covered”), says playing the game takes creativity, planning and a lot of teamwork — especially for the students who organize it.
As they tweak the rules of the game, adding new requirements or giving humans and zombies different powers, the results change, Badewitz-Brown said. Each human player gets a card, and must give it to a zombie if they are tagged. Overseer Sean Mack, a computer-science major, keeps a database that tells how many students have been turned into the undead. Usually, the humans win the game, but during last spring’s game the entire Human Resistance was infected by zombies.
One of the challenges is keeping zombies excited about playing, Badewitz-Brown said, because it’s discouraging to be turned into a zombie. So the UW group came up with the idea of “super-zombies,” players who have killed — that is, tagged — 10 humans. Super-zombies have the power to infect others just by lobbing socks and hitting humans.
Naturally, there is a Facebook page. The social- networking site is a convenient way for the overseers to post the rules, emphasize proper conduct and make changes on the fly. It’s also a good way for the two sides to taunt one another, and organize hunting parties (for zombies) or escape plans (for humans).
The game was suspended on Wednesday and Thursday for President Obama’s visit. Creeping around campus with Nerf guns while Seattle police and Secret Service agents were watching for suspicious activity didn’t seem like a good idea. The game resumed Friday.
“The students deserve so much credit for keeping danger out of the game,” said Sahr, a professor of electrical engineering, who’s heard that HvZT is banned on some campuses — an early halt to the game was called at Western Washington University last week because of complaints it had gotten too noisy. As with the case at most campuses, students can’t play indoors, and the UW students also forbid zombies from tagging humans at bus stops when a bus is present.
Seattle seems to have a special affinity for zombies — the Fremont Zombie Walk briefly set a world record for the biggest gathering of zombies in one place.
But it’s important to note that UW zombies don’t act like movie zombies — you know, stagger around with their arms outstretched, groaning and bleeding and drooling and stuff. It’s just too difficult to catch a human when you’re acting like an extra in “Night of the Living Dead.”
Still, the zombie effect can be useful. One season, Zombie Sahr was walking through campus when he spotted a human girl talking to a couple of boys who weren’t playing the game.
“They said, ‘Well, you’ve got to shoot him,’ “ Sahr recounted. But the girl was unsure — she didn’t know if she could shoot a professor.
“So, I went into full zombie mode,” he said. “And then she shot me.”
Score one for the humans.